Tokyo’s Mono started off with records announcing (in long form passages) their allegiance to their influences: Sonic Youth, minimalism and kinship with contemporaries like Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Under the Pipal Tree, released on John Zorn’s Tzadik imprint, and One Step More and You Die, both revealed them as young, formidable noisemakers wielding sheets of guitar shimmer in hefty, modal blocks. Their latest, Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, marks the band’s first five years into their recording career with signs of where they came from and the direction they are headed.
The addition of a string quartet makes for a modern classical feel; Mono pushing themselves into a progressive instrumental-only sound only a few clicks to the left of their previous work. With pieces that often run in the 10-minute range, theirs is a slow-building arc of effects-heavy guitar and electronics, rising and falling in moody swells. No wonder they are one of the few bands retaining the near-dead moniker of “post-rock.” The tone of the pieces hovers in the melancholy mist of vicissitudes. A barometer of emotions shifts from gentle violin strokes and broad fluctuations of noise on “Mere Your Pathetic Flight,” to the agitated guitar crackle of “Lost Snow.”
Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined lacks the clarity of some of Mono’s earlier work. But examples like the aforementioned cuts and the subtly unfolding opener “16:12” see the band tinkering with the elements of their music. The structure of their songs is inherent to the resulting sound-scapes, with the mass of these chunks of throbbing bass and guitar thud being ripe building blocks for reinterpretation by other artists. To coincide with the release of Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, Mono put forth a collection of remixes of their album One Step More and You Die, titled New York Soundtracks. With contributions from avant-blues guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors, peer band Calla, and Illbient electro-audio sculptor DJ Olive, among others, and a cover designed by one of their fans and idols Kim Gordon, the record is evidence of Mono’s vibrant presence among modern rock explorers. That Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined does not hold forth with firm resolve to this recording is but a blip on the group’s career. Mono is bound to yield a fine body of work to come.